Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia, which is now part of modern-day turkey. It was built in around the 10thcentury BC, however, it is only mentioned in the New Testament. The city was famous as the location of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Ephesus was also one of the Seven Churches of the Apocalypse, mentioned in the Book of Revelation. “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.” (Revelation 1:11)
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:1-7)
It is thought the Gospel of John may have been written in Ephesus, however, it is never mentioned in the book. The first time the city appears in the Bible is in the Book of Acts shortly after Paul has left Corinth. Paul was travelling with two people named Priscilla and Aquilla, who he left in Ephesus whilst he continued to Syria. “When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, “I will come back if it is God’s will.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.” (Acts 18:20-21)
As promised, Paul returned to Ephesus where he met up with some of the disciples and spoke to them about the Holy Spirit. The disciples, however, had never heard of the Holy Spirit and confessed they had only be baptised by John the Baptist, which Paul referred to as a “baptism of repentance.” Following this, the disciples, twelve men in total, were baptised in the name of Jesus and began to speak in tongues.
Whilst in Ephesus, Paul conducted many miracles, which put the fear of the Lord into the Jews and Greeks in the city, many of whom confessed of their sins and changed their wicked ways. Unfortunately, a man named Demetrius despised Paul and tried to convince the citizens to ignore his claims. Demetrius declared, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” (Acts 19:28) This sparked a riot amongst those who had heard Demetrius’ cry, which was quickly joined by hundreds of other people, many of whom had no idea what was going on but had been caught up in the moment.
Paul was frustrated with the stubbornness of the Jewish synagogue in Ephesus and decided to move on to Macedonia, leaving the disciples to attempt to spread the word in the city. It has been suggested Paul had stayed four years in Ephesus (53-57 AD) during which time he wrote the first letter to the Corinthians. Paul tells the Corinthians that he will come to them after visiting Macedonia “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me.” (1 Corinthians 16:8-9) As Acts 19 states, however, the disciples discouraged Paul from challenging Demetrius’ beliefs and he left the city without having won over all the citizens.
Later, around 62 AD, Paul wrote to the Ephesians from where he was imprisoned in Rome. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 1:1-2) Paul wrote specifically to those who he had successfully converted before he left the city. In his letter, Paul provided the Ephesians with instructions for Christian living and households.
Paul also wrote a couple of letters to his disciple Timothy, who he urged to “stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” (1 Timothy 1:3-4) According to the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus.
Whilst these accounts tell us about the challenge of spreading Christianity to Ephesus, they reveal little about the geography and history of the city. Recent excavations suggest the land was inhabited from as early as 6000 BC; however, the city of Ephesus was not founded until the 10th century BC by an Attic-Ionian colony. According to legend, a prince of Athens who had to leave his country after the death of his father founded the city. The prince drove out most of the natives and gave the land to his people. He was a successful warrior and the city began to flourish under his reign.
In 650 BC, Cimmerians, a nomadic tribe, attacked Ephesus, burning it to the ground. This attack also destroyed the temple of Artemis. The city was rebuilt but faced several invasions over the coming centuries until it became a part of the Roman Republic in 129 BC. The Romans temporarily lost Ephesus to the Mithridates but had regained the city by 86 BC. It is recorded that King Ptolemy XII Auletes of Egypt retired to Ephesus in 57 BC, where he spent most of his time at the newly built Temple of Artemis. Mark Anthony and Cleopatra were also welcomed to Ephesus in 33 BC.
When Augustus became the first Roman emperor in 27 BC, he made Ephesus the capital of proconsular Asia and the city entered a period of prosperity. Ephesus was second in importance and size to Rome. This was the state of the city when Paul visited in the 1st century AD. Unfortunately, the Goths destroyed the city in 263 AD and, although Constantine the Great rebuilt Ephesus, adding in new public baths, the city never regained its former splendour.
Ephesus remained a fairly important city during the 5thand 6thcentury and Justinian I erected the basilica of St John over the location they believed to be the burial place of John the Baptist. Yet, the city began to rapidly decline after an earthquake in 614 AD and sackings by the Arabs between 654 and 716 AD. By 1090 when Turks conquered Ephesus, it was little more than a village. By the 15th century, the place had been abandoned.
Today, Ephesus is one of the largest Roman archaeological sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Remains and foundations of buildings are still recognisable, including the Temple of Artemis, which once contained over 100 marble pillars. The façade of the Library of Celsus, which was built in 125 AD, has been carefully reconstructed from original pieces. It is believed nearly 12,000 scrolls were once kept in the building.
Just for fun, here is a list of notable people that once lived in Ephesus. We might not recognise many of their names but they have played a large part in history:
As I was preparing my last sermon, it seemed to me there were too many Herods in the Bible, so I thought I would clarify.
Herod the Great, who came to power in 37 BC as King of Judea, is the Herod in the Christmas Story, the Herod who slaughtered the children. He died shortly after Jesus was born.
After he died, Herod the Great's kingdom was split into four and Herod Antipas was the Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. It is this Herod who built Tiberius and it is this Herod who ultimately beheaded John the Baptist. He died in 39 AD after ruling for 43 years.
The grandson of Herod the Great, Herod Agrippa I, who ruled from 41 to 44 AD is the Herod who killed James, son of Zebedee.
Too many James's! The Letter of James, tradition tells us, was written by Jesus' half brother. It is said Joseph and Mary had other children, namely James, Joseph, Simon and Mary. James was not a disciple but tradition says on seeing Jesus resurrected, was converted. He became known as James the Just, who was stoned to death in 62 AD. It is this James who wrote the letter and it is this James was head of the Church in Jerusalem. It is important to realise this because, in my reading, there seems to be an awful lot of confusion between James son of Zebedee and James the son of Alpheus, who are the named disciples and are, therefore, sometimes given credit for this letter.
The lectionary readings start with Isaiah 35:1-10, then Matthew 11:2-11 and James 5:7-10.
What a change from last week's lectionary reading (Matthew 3:1-12) where John the Baptist arrives on the scene wearing clothes made of camel hair, full of confidence in the new Messiah being the saviour of the Jewish nation. Today, we see him locked in a jail, which we believe is called the Fortress of Machaerus that was built on top of a hill. full of doubts: is Jesus really the Messiah? John sends his disciples to check.
It is okay to doubt. I was taken by my copy of Christian Writer, which had a quote from the American writer, novelist and Presbyterian minister, Frederick Buechner, who said, "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid." I believe someone counted 365 times the words "Do not be afraid" are written in the Bible, one for every day of the year, so clearly, that is a Biblical message for us to take heed.
On the same day, by chance, I was reading a magazine from Barnabas Aid and its editorial contained this: "We must remember that God is in control, that He who holds us in the palm of His hand will keep us by His power (1 Peter 1:5). He has inscribed our names on the palms of His hands to ensure that we are ever held in remembrance (Isaiah 49:16). Therefore, at the start of His 2020, let us remember that we are enfolded by God's mighty hands."
So, we have to hold in tension that we can doubt but that also ultimately we are loved and part of God's almighty plan. Thomas the apostle famously doubted, John the Baptist doubts.
When I am speaking to people about Christianity, two doubts often come up in conversation. Doubt 1: why does God allow suffering? To which I respond, do not blame God, why do WE allow suffering to happen? Doubt 2: do prayers work? My answer, prayer does work, sometimes not in the way we think and sometimes not in the timing that we want, and sometimes it might seem our prayers are not answered but that is because it is not in our best interest. From my experience of praying a lot, I would say our prayers are often answered. I do not know how it works, but then I do not know how gravity works. I accept the forces of gravity, therefore, I accept the spiritual forces of prayer. It is okay to doubt.
Jesus, annoyingly, does not say "Yes I am the one", yet rather "look and see." As we are told in the Isaiah passage, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will rise etc. but we have seen in Matthew's Gospel the raising of Jarius' daughter (9:22), the lame are walking (9:6), and the blind see and mute people shout for joy (9:27). So, Jesus is saying, look I am fulfilling Isaiah's prophesy. So, we have to look and see where Jesus is working in our world today; can we see glimmers of hope that help us confirm Jesus is very much alive?
Going back to my Barnabas Aid magazine, I see how they are helping so many Christians who live in persecution and it is heartening and humbling to see such faith in societies where it is dangerous to be Christians receiving hope.
We certainly need hope because, on the same day that I read Christian Writer and the Barnabas Aid magazine, I bought The Big Issue. It is a marvellous magazine to help the homeless, which has a strapline "Giving the homeless a hand up not a handout." Each official vendor receives a percentage of the profit, so they are business people. The magazine is of high quality but reminds us how many people are in debt. Salient figures are, "a third of Brits in poverty will borrow £200 to cover the cost of Christmas." "Collectively, the 3 million people in problem debt and the 10 million people on the brink will be pushed £3.5 billion deeper into debt this Christmas." It advises "186,183 three day emergency fund parcels were given out last Christmas by the Trussell Trust" and the expectation is the same this year, perhaps more. There have been "2.6 million people on Universal Credit as of October 2019." (The Big Issue, Issue 1388, page 23)
So, we have reasons to doubt but also reasons to hope. Coming up to Christmas, we remember the candles surrounding the Advent wreath of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. God uses the unexpected to fulfil his plans because, quite frankly, it seems ludicrous that the saviour of the world was born to impoverished parents in an occupied country and yet, God plans to establish God's eternal kingdom by reconciling us, who live in a broken world, to have a relationship with a God who created the universe. So, I have my doubts and yet I know that Jesus Christ was real and I have, as we all have, a part in God's plan to ensure there is hope for all God's children in a world of over 7 billion people, we can make a difference and ensure we start making changes that benefit others. We can stop the suffering and my prayer is that God gives me the situations where I can make a difference.
Philippi was a major city in Greece on the Aegean Sea at the foot of Mount Lekani. Originally called Crenides, the city was renamed by Philip II of Macedon in 356 BC. Today, Philippi lies in ruins in the region of Filippoi, which now belongs to East Macedonia and Thrace. Since 2016, the ancient ruins have been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In the New Testament, Paul’s letters to the church at Philippi are recorded in the Epistle to the Philippians. The apostle first visited the city with Silas and possibly Luke, the Gospel writer, in either AD 49 or 50 during his second missionary journey. “From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.” (Acts 16:12) Whilst there, Paul met a woman who dealt in cloth named Lydia who converted to Christianity after hearing Paul’s message.
Philippi had become a Roman city in 42 BC, two years after the assassination of Julius Caesar. The assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus escaped from Italy to Greece where Caesar’s heirs Mark Antony and Octavian eventually defeated them at the Battle of Philippi. Following this, veteran soldiers were released from Antony and Octavian’s armies and encouraged to colonise city. When Octavian became the Roman Emperor Augustus in 27 BC, he continued to encourage the colonisation, renaming the city Colonia Augusta Iulia Philippensis.
By the time Paul reached Philippi, the city was likened to a “miniature Rome” under the municipal law of the Romans. Philippi is thought to be the first European location visited by Paul and, therefore, could be the first introduction of Christianity to the continent.
“Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only.” (Philippians 4:15) In his letter, Paul includes a short thank you note to the Philippians regarding their hospitality and the gifts they had subsequently sent to him. This, however, goes slightly against Paul’s claim in his letter to the Thessalonians in which he declares “We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi” (Thessalonians 2:2). Nonetheless, a small church was erected in Philippi and named the Basilica of Paul after the prophet.
Although it had the oldest congregation in Europe, Philippi did not become a bishopric until the 4th century. Over the following two centuries, many ecclesiastical buildings were erected, including seven churches. At the end of the 5th century, a cathedral took the place of the original Basilica of Paul, which is said to have rivalled the churches of Constantinople.
Philippi was a heavily fortified city, which helped it survive Slavic invasions during the 6th century, however, a pandemic in 547 known as the Plague of Justinian significantly weakened the city’s population. An earthquake in 619 almost flattened the city and, although people remained in the area, it was no bigger than a village by the end of the 7th century. It is thought the Byzantine Empire used the village as a garrison, however, the area was captured by the Bulgarians in 838. By the 900s, the Byzantine Empire had reclaimed the former city and Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas rebuilt the fortifications. Philippi began to grow and prosper once more, becoming a centre of business and wine production by 1150.
After the fourth Crusade, Philippi was captured by the Serbs but continued to thrive. What happened after this, however, is not certain. Whether gradual or sudden, the city was abandoned and by the 1540s, all that remained were ruins.
Philippi is now a graveyard of once splendid buildings; a sorry end for one of the first Christian European cities. Still standing is the entrance to an Ancient Greek-style theatre and relief decorations by Philip II (4th century BC). Many of the columns forming the Roman forum still stand, however, whatever they supported has crumbled away. Roman gravestones can still be deciphered in places and a floor mosaic containing the name of St Paul indicates where the basilica once stood.
It is a shame there is not much left of the city, however, Philippi will be eternally remembered through Paul’s letters to the Philippians.
“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:13) This is the only time the village of Emmaus is mentioned in the Bible and yet it is the location of an important part of Jesus’ life and resurrection. “They” are two disciples, one who is called Cleopas, who did not believe Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James when they revealed Jesus had risen from the dead. The two disciples were discussing the events of the past three days when they encountered a stranger on the road who accompanied them to Emmaus. When there, Cleopas and his friend urged this stranger to stay with them for the evening but whilst they were dining, the stranger took the bread, gave thanks and broke it before giving it to the pair. Reminded of the Last Supper, the disciples realised it was not a stranger but Jesus, who immediately disappeared from their sight.
So, where was Emmaus? We know from Luke Emmaus was about seven miles (or 60 stadia) from Jerusalem, however, its geographical location is not clear. There have been several suggestions throughout history but since the Bible did not provide any specific details about the landscape, no one can be completely certain about the location. It is thought the name Emmaus came from the Semitic word hammaor hammat, meaning “warm spring”, which may be a clue about the geography of the village.
The majority of the suggested locations are around 60 stadia (an ancient Greek measurement) from Jerusalem; however, the most popular and oldest identification is around 160 stadia from the city. Emmaus Nikopolis (meaning Emmaus City of Victory) appears in the deuterocanonical bible in the first book of Maccabees under the name Emmaus during Judas of Maccabee’s wars against the Greeks. Being strategically close to Jerusalem, it became a regional administrative centre, however, was destroyed by the Romans in 4 BC. Although attempts were made to rebuild the village, an earthquake flattened it in 130 AD.
During the early 3rd century AD, a city was erected on the foundations of Emmaus, which quickly became a famous city in Palestine. In the writings of Saint Eusebius of Vercelli (283-371), it is stated, “Emmaus, whence was Cleopas who is mentioned by the Evangelist Luke. Today it is Nicopolis, a famous city of Palestine.” This is one of the earliest claims that Emmaus Nikopolis is the location of the Biblical Emmaus and after the city became a bishopric, a church complex was built on the spot believed to be the place where the apparition of the risen Christ occurred.
Due to the discrepancy between Luke’s claim that Emmaus was 60 stadia from Jerusalem and the reality that Emmaus Nikopolis was much further away, led people to doubt Saint Eusebius’ claim. In more recent years, several other places have been suggested, for example, the village of al-Qubeiba 65 stadia north of Jerusalem. Although there is no literature suggesting this is the location of Emmaus, a Roman fort that was discovered during the Crusades has been named Castellum Emmaus.
Abu Ghosh, a town approximately 83 stadia (nine miles) from Jerusalem, was originally believed to be Emmaus by the Crusaders before they accepted Emmaus Nikopolis as the location. Both towns are accessed from the same road out of Jerusalem, however, there is little else to suggest Abu Ghosh is the true location.
Between Abu Ghosh and Jerusalem is another potential location of the biblical Emmaus. Colonia, 36 stadia from Jerusalem, was a Palestinian Arab village that was destroyed by the Jewish military in 1948. Originally named Mozah, it is listed in Joshua 18 as one of the Benjamite cities. In the Jewish Talmud, Mozah was referred to as the place where people could celebrate Sukkot. Unlike Emmaus Nikopolis, which was identified as the Emmaus of Luke thousands of years ago, Mozah, or Motza as it temporarily became, was suggested as the location by William F. Birch (1840–1916) of the Palestinian Exploration Fund in 1881.
When determining the true locations of biblical cities, scholars often look at the work of Josephus Flavius, however, in this instance, his writing has proved unhelpful. In his historiographical work Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus mentions a city named Emmaus in the context of the Maccabean Revolt, which has been identified as Emmaus Nikopolis. In his book The Jewish War, however, Josephus speaks of a place called Emmaus 60 stadia from Jerusalem, which corresponds with the Biblical description but paints Emmaus Nikopolis out of the picture. To make things even more confusing, historians are almost certain Josephus’ second Emmaus is Mozah, now Colonia, which is only 30 stadia from Jerusalem.
It is unlikely that the true location of Emmaus will ever be proven and some scholars have put forward the idea that the account in Luke was merely symbolic. The passage has been likened to Jacob being visited by God in his dream while sleeping on a rock in the Old Testament. Others claim it mimics the story told by Livy (64 BC – 12 AD) in which a man named Proculus, which means “proclaimer” in archaic Latin meets a stranger on the road to Rome who turns out to be the recently killed Romulus, the mythical founder of Rome. When Proculus realised who the stranger is, Romulus ascended into heaven. In Luke’s Gospel, the two disciples have a similar experience but what connects the two stories further is the named disciple Cleopas, which means “proclaimer” in Greek.
Whatever the truth, Emmaus is certainly a mystery!
Gethsemane, or Gat Shmaním, which means “oil press”, was a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives. The garden is only mentioned by name in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, which both describe the same scene, commonly known as the Agony in the Garden.
The Agony in the Garden took place on the night of Jesus’ arrest. After the famous Last Supper, “Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’” (Matthew 26:36) Whilst Jesus was praying, the disciples fell asleep. Three times Jesus asked his disciples to sit and pray, and each time they fell asleep. Jesus’ prayers were almost like pleas, asking God to “Take this cup from me.” Jesus knew, of course, the events to follow were part of God’s big plan. “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:36
The Mount of Olives, and therefore Gethsemane, was a place Jesus and his Disciples visited regularly. Going there to pray was nothing unusual, however, it meant Judas was able to easily find Jesus to have him arrested.
Gethsemane’s location is uncertain and there are at least four places near the foot of the mountain that claim to be the true garden. Each claim was made by a different Christian denomination: Catholic, Eastern Christianity, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox. The first claim is the garden at the Catholic Church of All Nations in Jerusalem. The church, which was consecrated in 1924, is built on the remains of a 12th-century Crusader chapel, which in turn had been erected on the site of a 4th-century Byzantine basilica. Enshrined within the church is a piece of bedrock claiming to be where Jesus prayed before his arrest.
The second location claiming to be Gethsemane is near the Church of the Sepulchre of Saint Mary, which is where Eastern Christians believe Mary, the mother of Jesus was buried. According to tradition, Mary died a natural death and was buried in the tomb, however, was resurrected three days later. Following this, Mary was taken up to heaven in bodily form, which is known as the Assumption of Mary.
The Greek Orthodox Church has supposedly determined Gethsemane would have been on the east side of the Mount of Olives, however, has expressed no precise location. The Russian Orthodox Church, on the other hand, is certain Gethsemane is the orchard next to the Church of Mary Magdalene. The Russian architect David Grimm designed the church for Tsar Alexander III who wished to honour his mother, Empress Maria Alexandrovna. A relic of the martyred saint Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna of Russia, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, can be found in the church, alongside a relic of the nun Varvara Yakovleva who was also murdered along with the royal family. Having expressed the wish to be buried near her grandmother, Princess Alice of Battenberg, the mother of Princess Phillip, was buried in the crypt below the church.
It is impossible to determine which, if any, of the claimants are the true location of Gethsemane, however, they are all within proximity of each other. Olive trees in the area have been determined to be the oldest known to science, however, it is uncertain whether they would have been the same trees that Jesus was familiar with. Carbon dating has placed some of the trees as far back as 1092. Since olive trees can regrow from their roots if chopped down, there is a very strong chance that these trees have been there since biblical times.
Just for fun, I have found out some facts about olives:
Capernaum, which only appears in the Gospels, was a fishing village on the northern shore of Lake Galilee. It was established during the time the Hasmoneans were the ruling dynasty of Judea between 140 and 116 BC. Today, the village lies in ruins; however, it once had a population of about 1500 people.
The village’s original name was Kfar Naḥūm, which means “Nahum’s Village” but, as far as we know, there was no connection to the Old Testament prophet. In Greek, the name was written Kαφαρναούμ (Kapharnaoúm), which over time became Capernaum.
In the Bible, Capernaum is recorded as the hometown of several of Jesus’ disciples. In Matthew 4, Jesus “went and lived in Capernaum” (4:13) where he came across “Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.” (4:18) Jesus told them to follow him and they did, becoming his first disciples. Walking on from there, although presumably not far, Jesus came across, James son of Zebedee and his brother John who were also fishing. Just as he did with Simon and Andrew, Jesus called to them and they became his disciples.
In Matthew 9, “Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town” – believed to be Capernaum – where he healed a paralysed man. Following this, he came across a man called Matthew, a tax collector and, although tax collectors were generally despised, Jesus asked Matthew to follow him. Thus, Matthew became another of Jesus’ disciples.
Possibly because he lived there, or at least some of his disciples came from the village, Jesus spent a lot of time in Capernaum, therefore, it is unsurprising that many of his miracles took place in there. Jesus’ first miracle took place at a wedding in Cana, however, “After this he went down to Capernaumwith his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days” (John 2:12)
Jesus’ miracles in Capernaum are recorded throughout all four Gospels. Already mentioned is the healing of the paralysed man, which took place shortly before Matthew was called to discipleship. Whilst this miracle is recorded in both Matthew and Mark, the latter contains more detail. “A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home.They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them.” (Mark 2:1-2) Jesus’ miracles were already well known, hence the crowd of people, however, this meant not everyone could get into the building to see Jesus. Four men attempted to bring a paralysed man to Jesus, however, after seeing the crowd, they decided to lower the man through a hole in the roof rather than attempt to get through the door. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralysed man, ‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’” (Mark 2:5)
Jesus was often amazed by the faith of the people who sought him out, for example, “When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. ‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralysed, suffering terribly.’” (Matthew 8:5-6) The Centurion confessed he did not deserve Jesus to come under his roof, however, should Jesus wish to heal his servant he knew Jesus would. Amazed, Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” (Matthew 8:10) Subsequently, the servant was healed.
Another physical ailment Jesus healed was blindness. Whilst he was walking through Capernaum, two blind men called out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 9:27) For their faith, Jesus restored their sight. Immediately afterwards, a mute man who was possessed by a demon was brought to Jesus. “When the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke.” (Matthew 9:33)
Many of Jesus’ miracles involved driving out demons. In Mark 1, a man possessed by a demon tried to challenge Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24) After a stern “Be quiet!” Jesus ordered the demon to leave the man. Later that day, “people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed.” (Mark 1:32) Jesus healed the people and drove out many demons.
One of Jesus’ amazing miracles involved raising a dead girl. A synagogue leader approached Jesus saying, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” (Matthew 9:18) Jesus followed the man to his house where he told the noisy crowd, “The girl is not dead but asleep.” (9:24) Despite being laughed at, Jesus took hold of the girl’s hand and she rose up from the bed, completely healthy. Coinciding with this miracle was the healing of a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. Her faith was so strong, she believed by reaching out to touch Jesus’ cloak as he passed by would heal her. She was right.
Not all the people Jesus healed were strangers. After spending the day preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus went to the home of Simon where his mother-in-law was suffering from a fever. Jesus “rebuked the fever, and it left her.” Incidentally, archaeologists believe they have found the remains of Simon’s house, or Saint Peter as he is otherwise known.
Whilst the majority of Jesus’ miracles involved healing, the disciples were witnesses to a different type. John 6 tells us of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, which took place on the opposite side of the lake, however, when the disciples had “got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum,” (Mark 6:17) they saw Jesus walking on the water towards them. Naturally, they were frightened by this but Jesus reassured them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” (6:20)
The Gospels do not only record miracles occurring at Capernaum, but there are also the teachings of Jesus. Mark 9:37 is perhaps the most well known of these, which states, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Another well-known saying occurs in Matthew 11, which was said by Jesus while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)
Jesus also issued a warning to the people of Capernaum. Despite the number of miracles that occurred in the village, Capernaum would not survive the wrath of God. “And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.” Although Jesus spent a lot of time preaching to the villagers, they still lacked faith. Whether related to this or not, the village now lies in ruins.
It is not certain exactly when the village was abandoned but scholars believe it was during the 11thcentury AD before the crusader conquest. The village was established during the 2nd century BC at the same time as other fishing villages around the lake. The historian Josephus described Capernaum as a fertile spring, which he stayed at for a night to recover from a riding accident.
The ruins reveal the houses in Capernaum were narrow and could be accessed by communal passages and courtyards. There was no plumbing; therefore, it can be assumed people got water from the river. Remains of fishhooks and weights confirm that Capernaum was an established fishing village and there is no evidence of an “upper class” or ruler.
One set of ruins has been identified as a synagogue from the 4th-century. Underneath this are older remains that are believed to be the foundations of the synagogue mentioned in the Bible. There are also walls belonging to houses built in the 4thor 5thcentury, which were larger than the older building, however, one excavated house from the 1stcentury was markedly different from the rest. Unlike the bare walls of the other houses, this building had been plastered, leading archaeologists to believe it was not just used as a residence. Suggestions that it may have been a religious gathering place are widely accepted, as well as the idea that the disciple Simon/Peter lived there. Graffiti on the wall mentions Peter’s name. Today, a memorial modern church has been built above the ancient house in which a glass floor allows a direct view of the ruins below.
Did you know, in 1986 on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee, a 1st-century fishing boat was discovered that gives us an idea what the Disciple’s boat looked like. Who knows, it could even be their boat!
The Gospel of John mentions a town named Cana. John specifically tells us Cana is in Galilee, which is a region in Northern Israel. The location of the biblical town is widely debated today, however, the name Cana may derive from the Hebrew word for “reeds”, which suggests the town was located near marsh or grasslands.
In the Bible, Cana is best known as the place where Jesus performed his first public miracle. Told in chapter two of the Gospel of John, “a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee.” (John 2:1) “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (John 2:11) Jesus was attending a wedding in Cana with his mother and disciples. During the celebration, the host ran out of wine and Mary asked her son to do something about the situation. Jesus instructed the servants to fill six stone jars with water, however, when the master of the banquet tasted the liquid, it had become wine. Although this is believed to be Jesus’ first miracle, it is not recorded in the synoptic Gospels.
The Gospel of John mentioned Cana a further two times. “Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum.” (John 4:46) When the man heard Jesus was in Cana, he begged Jesus to heal his son. Jesus declined to go with the man to his house; however, Jesus promised his son would live. As Jesus was saying this, the fever left the young boy, and Cana became the location of a second miracle.
The final time Cana is mentioned in the Gospel of John is in relation to one of Jesus’ disciples. “Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.” (John 21:1-2) Nathanael from Cana is more commonly known as Bartholomew the Apostle who was born in Cana during the 1stcentury AD. He was first mentioned in John 1 when Philip introduced him to Jesus. When Jesus met Nathanael, he said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47) Jesus promised Nathanael that he would “see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51) St Bartholomew (Nathanael) was later skinned alive and beheaded in Albanopolis, Armenia, where he is now celebrated as the patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
In some versions of the Bible, Simon the Zealot, as he is known in the NIV, is known as Simon from Cana or Simon the Cananite. (Matthew 10:4, Mark 3:18) Simon was another of Jesus’ apostles who, like Nathanael, may have been born in Cana. Some scholars, however, contest his place of birth, pointing out the Hebrew for “zealous” and “Cana” both derive from the same word, qanai, therefore, “Simeon from Cana” could be a mistranslation.
The location of Cana has baffled historians for centuries and many theories have been developed. There have been some suggestions that Cana may not have been a real place, however, the name of the town has also featured in The Life of Josephus written between 94-99 AD. To date, five places have been proposed as the true location of the town. They are Qana, Lebanon; Kafr Kanna, Israel; Khirbet Qana, Israel; Karm er-Rasm, Israel; and Ain Qana, South Lebanon.
The early Christian historian, Eusebius of Caesarea, selected Qana in Lebanon as the location of Cana during the 4thcentury. It is a village situated approximately 18 miles from the city of Tyre. It is said that Jesus’ first miracle took place in one of the natural caves in the village, which contain ancient inscriptions on the rock.
In the 17thcentury, a papal emissary to Palestine reported two possible locations of Cana: Khirbet Qana and Kafr Kanna. The latter, located 4.3 miles from Nazareth, was considered to be the location of Cana long before the emissary’s visit, however, there is no tangible evidence for this. Although Arabs predominantly inhabit the town, there are a few Catholic churches, including the Roman Catholic Chapel of the Apostle Bartholomew and the Franciscan Wedding Church.
Khirbet Qana, on the other hand, means “ruins of Cana”, giving it more standing as the true location of the city. The village is 8 miles from Nazareth and contains the remains of a settlement from the Early Arab Period. Maps produced by the Crusaders cite Khirbet Qana as the biblical Cana, however, since the village lies in ruins, there is little other evidence.
Meanwhile, Yardenna Alexandre, an Israeli archaeologist, is convinced the ruined site of Karm er-Rasm is the true location of Cana. Excavations have revealed it was once inhabited by a Jewish population and eventually abandoned in the Byzantine period. Unfortunately, no one else agrees with her theory.
Finally, Ain Qana, which means “the spring of Cana”, is an agricultural town that has been considered as a better candidate for the biblical Cana. Situated only a mile from Nazareth, early Christian pilgrims reported the town contained a spring from which the jars at the wedding may have been filled. The spring is no longer there and excavations have not yet taken place. Once again, there is not enough evidence to determine if this is the true location.
For now, Cana remains missing!
Caesarea is a city that is heavily featured in the Acts of the Apostles. Today, the ancient city lies in ruins two kilometres from a modern city of the same name. To differentiate between the two, the Biblical city is now known as Caesarea Maritima and is located within an Israeli national park in the Sharon Plains on the coast of the Mediterranean.
Herod the Great constructed Caesarea (Maritima) between 22 and 9 BC. Before then, Straton I, king of Sidon (365-352 BC) had built a tower on the land, which may have been used as a storehouse. In 90 BC, Alexander Jannaeus, a Hasmonean King of Judea, captured the tower and developed the area into a shipping industry. It remained under Jewish control until 63 BC when the land was taken over by the Romans. The city was awarded to Herod the Great in 30 BC and he began to make vast changes, which included renaming it Caesarea after the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. Other developments included a harbour named Sebastos, storerooms, market places, roads, temples and public baths.
In 6 AD, Judea became a Roman province and Caesarea replaced Jerusalem as the capital. The city was the home of Roman governors, including the prefect Pontius Pilate who, as we know, ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. A block of carved limestone was discovered in 1961 bearing the inscription “To the Divine Augusti [this] Tiberieum...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...has dedicated [this]” which confirms Pilate lived in the area.
If the writings of the 1st-century historian, Josephus, are to be believed, Caesarea’s harbour was as large as the harbour in Athens. The city became the largest in Judea, spreading over 1.4 square miles and provided homes for 125,000 people. During the reign of Emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) the city was raised to the status of a Colonia and renamed Colonia Prima Flavia Augusta Caesarea.
Caesarea is first mentioned in Acts 8:40: “Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” Philip the Evangelist was responsible for introducing Christianity to Caesarea. One of the converts, possibly the first gentile to convert to Christianity, was Cornelius the Centurion. “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment.” (Acts 10:1) Peter the Apostle was also involved in the spread of Christianity and when Cornelius heard that Peter was nearby, he requested a visit. “The following day [Peter] arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends.” (Acts 10:24) Following this, Cornelius was baptised, which again was a first for the gentiles.
Naturally, the Jewish converts were concerned about a gentile becoming a Christian and being baptised, so they began to criticise him. Peter defended himself and explained his actions, retelling the story of Cornelius’ baptism from his perspective. “Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them.” (Acts 11:11-12)
Unfortunately, Peter’s explanation did not please everyone and he eventually ended up in prison after being seized by King Herod Agrippa. An angel of the Lord, however, helped Peter escape and the next day, Herod began thoroughly searching for the fugitive. “After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.” (Acts 12:19) Shortly afterwards, Herod was struck down by the Lord for not allowing God’s word to flourish, and “he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:23)
Another apostle loosely associated with Caesarea was the convert Paul, previously Saul. In Acts 21, Paul “reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist.” (Acts 21:8) Whilst there, Philip prophesied that Paul would be bound by his belt in Jerusalem and handed over to the gentiles. Although people implored Paul to stay in Caesarea, he assured that he was “ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” (Acts 21:13)
As Philip predicted, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem, however, some people wanted to go one step further and have him killed. To save his life, a commander ordered his centurions to “Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmento go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.” (Acts 23:23-24) Paul stayed in Caesarea for two years until he was transferred to Rome.
After this, Caesarea is never mentioned in the Bible again, however, there are other works and literature that reveal a little more information about the city. Some say the Nicene Creed may have originated in Caesarea and the early Christian scholar Origen wrote some of his theological works whilst living in the city. The Apostolic Constitution, which was written somewhere between 375 and 380 AD suggests that Cornelius the Centurion became the second Bishop of Caesarea and was followed by Theophilus, the possible addressee of the Gospel of Luke.
Caesarea became the capital of the Byzantine province Palaestina Prima in 390 AD. It remained the capital until the early 7th century when the Sasanid Empire of Persia conquered it during the Byzantine-Sasanian War of 602-628. The Byzantine Empire managed to temporarily re-conquer Caesarea in 625; however, it was permanently lost to them after the Muslim conquest in 640, during which time the city was partially destroyed. People may have continued to live in the remains of Caesarea and the harbour still functioned until the 9th century.
According to accounts written of the First Crusade, which began in 1101, Caesarea had been rebuilt and fortified. The Crusaders took control of the city until 1191 when Saladin, the Egyptian sultan captured it in 1187. The Crusaders won back their control in 1191 and, during the following century, Caesarea was fortified with high walls and a moat on the orders of Louis IX of France. Unfortunately, the fortifications were not enough to keep Mamluk armies out and the city fell for good in 1265.
In 1952, the modern city of Caesarea was established as a Jewish town near the ruins of the old city. Excavation work began in Caesarea Maritima, unearthing mosaics, foundations of buildings and, most recently, 24 gold coins dating to the Crusader period.
In the Bible, people occasionally confuse Caesarea with another place of a similar name. Caesarea Philippi (Philip’s Caesarea) is mentioned twice in the Gospels. This is not the same place as Caesarea Maritima and may have been called Baal Gad in the Old Testament. “… Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon.” (Joshua 11:17) Caesarea Philippi is now an almost uninhabited archaeological site in the Golan Heights.
Philip II named Caesarea Philippi in honour of Caesar Augustus. It was generally known as Caesarea, however, the New Testament refers to it as Caesarea Philippi to differentiate from the other Caesarea. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus came near to Caesarea Philippi but there is no record that he entered the city. “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’” It was at this time that Simon Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus promised him keys to the kingdom of heaven. This is also recorded in the Gospel of Mark, which states, “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi.”
Just for fun, did you know there was a saint who once lived in Caesarea (Maritima)? Saint Albina was a young woman from Caesarea who died a martyr in 250 AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Decius. It is not certain whether she died in Caesarea or another city, however, Greek tradition states that after her death, her remains were miraculously transported to the Italian city of Gaeta, where they remain today.
Bethel, meaning “House of God”, is a place name that frequently appears in the Old Testament. It was first mentioned in the Book of Genesis after God had called Abram. “From [Shechem] he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord.” (Genesis 12:8) Unfortunately, the true location of Bethel has been lost.
Some early Christian writers, such as Jerome and Eusebius of Caesarea, described Bethel as a small village, twelve miles north of the city of Jerusalem. Many modern scholars have identified the village Beitin as Bethel, although others suggest the Palestinian city El-Bireh. This is 15 miles north of Jerusalem. Since 1967, Bethel has been associated with Beit El, an Israeli settlement adjacent to Beitin.
Bethel, wherever it may be, appears in twelve books of the Old Testament. As we read in Genesis 12, which is also referenced in chapter 13, Bethel is a place close to where Abram pitched his tent on the way to and from Egypt. It is next mentioned in Genesis 28 when Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau. “He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.” (Genesis 28:19) While resting here, Jacob dreamt of a ladder stretching between Heaven and Earth; at the top stands God, who promises Jacob the land of Canaan. On waking, Jacob renames the place Bethel (House of God), although it is never revealed why the name had changed to Luz, or whether it is the same place as the Bethel mentioned earlier in the book.
Later, God instructed Jacob to return to Bethel, where he built an altar to God “who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” (Genesis 35:3) Not long after Jacob and his family left Bethel, Rachel gave birth to his final son, Benjamin. Unfortunately, the birth was not without complications and Rachel passed away shortly after.
Bethel is mentioned a few times in the Book of Joshua, which confirms its location to be the same village Abram camped near. “Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, ‘Go up and spy out the region.’ So the men went up and spied out Ai.” (Joshua 7:2) Joshua 12 reveals that Bethel had a king, although we do not learn his name and, in Joshua 18, it is revealed that Bethel was located in the land allocated to the tribe of Benjamin. This is also recorded in 1 Chronicles.
Before the Israelites arrived, Bethel was inhabited by Canaanites. According to Judges 1, however, the tribes of Joseph killed the Canaanites. “Now the tribes of Joseph attacked Bethel, and the Lord was with them.” (Judges 1:22) Unfortunately, the Israelites went on to do evil things and the Lord had them sold into slavery under King Jabin of Canaan. At this time, Israel was being led by a woman named Deborah who held her court “between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim.” (Judges 4:5) Under Deborah’s command, the Israelites managed to defeat King Jabin.
In Judges 20, the Israelites went to Bethel to ask God whether they should fight against the Benjamites. “Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord.” (Judges 20:26) In this instance, Bethel is living up to the meaning of its name, the House of the Lord. Rather than calling on God from their hometowns, the Israelites travelled to Bethel to seek God out. Bethel was an important religious place at the time and the Ark of the Covenant was kept there. In the following chapter, the Israelites returned to Bethel asking how the tribe of Benjamin could survive since all their women had perished. The Israelites could not give their daughters as wives to the remaining male Benjamites due to an oath they had previously made. The solution was for the tribe of Benjamin to take their wives from “Shiloh, which lies north of Bethel, east of the road that goes from Bethel to Shechem, and south of Lebonah.” (Judges 21:19)
The prophet Samuel went on yearly visits “from Bethel to Gilgal to Mizpah, judging Israel in all those places.” (1 Samuel 7:16) He also instructed Saul, before he was made king, to visit Bethel. “Three men going up to worship God at Bethel will meet you there.” (1 Samuel 10:3) It is inferred that there was a Philistine garrison near Bethel because “Saul chose three thousand men from Israel; two thousand were with him at Mikmash and in the hill country of Bethel, and a thousand were with Jonathan at Gibeah in Benjamin.” (1 Samuel 13:2) The army attacked the Philistine outposts from these locations.
In 931 BCE, following the death of King Solomon, Israel was divided into two kingdoms. This king of the northern kingdom was Jeroboam, Solomon’s superintendent. Fearing his people would prefer the ruler and faith of the southern kingdom, Jeroboam made two golden calves and told his people they were the gods who brought them out of Egypt. “One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan.” (1 Kings 12:29) By tricking the Israelites into worshipping these idols, Jeroboam ensured his people stayed within his kingdom. The Israelites would not be fooled forever, as predicted by a man who had travelled “from Judah to Bethel” (1 Kings 13:1) who cried, “A son named Josiah will be born to the house of David. On you he will sacrifice the priests of the high places who make offerings here, and human bones will be burned on you … The altar will be split apart and the ashes on it will be poured out.” (13:2-3) The sacrifice of the priests is written in 1 Kings 10 during the reign of King Jehu (842-815 BC); however, the altar was not fully destroyed until the reign of King Josiah of Judah (640-609 BC). “Just as he had done at Bethel, Josiah removed all the shrines at the high places that the kings of Israel had built in the towns of Samaria and that had aroused the Lord’s anger. “ (2 Kings 23:19)
The Lord had previously spoken through the prophet Amos (c.750 BC) who warned the Israelites that “On the day I punish Israel for her sins, I will destroy the altars of Bethel; the horns of the altar will be cut off and fall to the ground.” (Amos 3:14) Bethel had become a place of sin. God tried to encourage the Israelites to “Seek me and live; do not seek Bethel.” (Amos 5:4-5)
In the Book of Hosea, Bethel is referred to as “Beth Aven,” which means “house of wickedness”. The prophet Hosea repeated Amos’ warning: “So will it happen to you, Bethel, because your wickedness is great. When that day dawns, the king of Israel will be completely destroyed.” Hosea also remembered the great things of Bethel’s past, for instance, Jacob’s dream: “He found him at Bethel and talked with him there.” (Hosea 12:4) By the time the prophet Jeremiah was writing in the 6thcentury BC, Bethel had received its fate. Jeremiah states, “Israel was ashamed when they trusted in Bethel.” This shows that the Israelites had repented of their sins. Zechariah, writing in around 520 BC, reveals that Bethel once again became the “House of God”. “The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, ‘Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?’” (Zechariah 7:2-3)
During the reign of Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (605-562), the Israelites were enslaved. After Cyrus the Great conquered the empire in 539 BC, the exiles were allowed to return from Babylon. The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah record the number of male Israelites that returned to each city. There is, however, a discrepancy in numbers; Ezra records that 223 men returned to Bethel and Ai but Nehemiah claims it was 123. Nehemiah also records that it was the descendants from the tribe of Benjamin that reclaimed Bethel and its settlements.
Although not recorded in the Bible, Bethel was inhabited during the time of the Maccabees (167-37 BC) and built up by Bacchidies, a Hellenistic general and friend of the Syrian-Greek King Demetrius. The last written historical record of Bethel tells us the emperor Vespasian (69-79 AD) captured the town, but after that, it fell into obscurity.
If the proposed town of Beitin really were the location of Bethel, the events of the Bible would have occurred there during the Iron Age. Before then, during the Bronze Age, the Canaanites lived in the era, evidenced by the remains of tombs and houses to the north and south of the town. It was around 1750 BC when the village of Bethel was elevated to the status of a town.
We are happy for you to use any material found here, however, please acknowledge the source: www.gantshillurc.co.uk
Rev'd Martin Wheadon